My wife described it as a “highly pixelated 80’s-looking game” and expressed disbelief as to its attraction.And to be honest at the beginning I sort f thought the same. At the same time I was aware of the immense appeal of the game to my younger students. My PLN (Personal Learning Network) has been flooded with posts and reviews of the game for years and I have mostly ignored them, not really considering spending time to understand it.
Until one day one group of students submitted their homework as a screencast of a reading comprehension task they had been given. I was already impressed with the way they retold a story in Minecraft. But when I asked them to explain to the group the process of creating the movie, I was simply blown away. While most students chose the relatively simple solution of writing a story or creating a cartoon or comic strip, these three boys spent hours understanding the story, setting up a server, negotiating over Skype to be online and choreographing their actions to every detail, recorded and published a YouTube video of it and then em/bedded it in the class blog. The complexity of the process and the amount of time they spent “doing their homework” was astonishing.
This was the moment I realised that ignoring Minecraft as an educational tool would be a huge oversight. I started encouraging the students to think of different ways in which they could use their Minecraft skills to submit assignments. In order to be able to help them I realised that I had to try to understand what Minecraft was all about, so I decided to join this MOOC and the mOOC initiated by Vance Stevens as part of the TESOL CALL Electronic Village Online community.
I am of a generation that sort of missed the emergence consoles, it was never really an option for me get to know how the game worked on this platform. Building a Raspberry Pi is way beyond my technical expertise and while it is a direction I will at one stage try to get a grasp of, this did not seem to be a be the best way to experiment with Minecraft either. I was pretty much left with the choice of the PC version and/or the tablet one. First I was quite inclined to go for the latter and download the app and use my iPad to play around but before doing so I decided to ask my students for advice. Without hesitation they suggested that I download the programme for my PC. Among the advantages they mentioned the opportunity of playing on a server, which is not possible on the tablet version, also playing with others in distant locations is much easier on a computer than on a handheld device which only offers multi-player options for people sharing the same wireless network – if I understood correctly. While I am planning to familiarise myself with the iOS version eventually, for the time being the PC version constitutes a big enough challenge for the time being. It was also mentioned that the updates and improvements of the computer version are much more straightforward and less disruptive than the app updates. I also believe that first becoming familiar with one platform will give me more transferable skills than simultaneously experimenting with a variety of platforms.
This very simple chart only focuses on sales of licenses over different platforms and it is not based on actual usage data, it is only my assumption that, like many application downloaded on portable devices (iOS and Android), the Pocket Edition with its more attractive pricing (around £10 compared with the £23 for the PC version) is used less than the PC/Mac version. It was also quite revealing that when I asked my students to use Minecraft in the classroom, they all brought their laptops, rather than their handheld devices.
In conclusion, as a ‘noob’ I have departed on my journey into mining and crafting on a PC and I intend to focus on this platform before venturing into discovering how the game work on others. It has been a very steep learning curve and I have greatly enjoyed the personal and professional challenge the game has posed. This journey has given me ample opportunities to discover my own limitations and my primary aim is to challenge those limitations before I can pass any meaningful judgement as to the limitations of the platforms themselves.